We have had a series of meetings across the two parishes to look at worship. On two occasions, we asked the Revd Andy Stinson, Diocesan Worship and Liturgy Missioner, to lead our thoughts and discussion. One of the things we have been thinking about is how our churches seek to reach others – our mission – and how that relates to worship. One of the questions we are asking is, How can we encourage more people to attend church services? Sadly, our motives are often mixed: we want more people to come to church. Why? Because we need more money in the collection plate to pay our bills! Why? So that the church will be there for us as long as we want it to be! Real mission happens when we believe we have something to share with others – the good news of God’s love. (Otherwise we are simply trying to recruit people to prop up an organisation that we support.)
It’s difficult to extricate the church’s worship from its mission. In fact, the two are very much tied up with each other. Mission is ultimately God’s activity: worship, our response. The church’s mission, as has been said, is to find out what God is up to and join in. So, what is God up to? God is the ultimate missionary. The incarnation is God’s coming to us and dwelling with us, sharing our lives and inviting us to share his. At Pentecost, we see how Jesus sends God’s Spirit to commission and empower the church to carry on his mission, God’s mission. In worship, we seek to respond to God who loved us so much that he sent his son (1 John 4:10-12). Once we grasp that we are loved, we are encouraged to share that love with others. So, worship (responding to God’s love) and mission (sharing God’s love with others) are intimately connected.
It’s a bit of a leap, then, to get from these lofty ideas to the nuts and bolts of what services we offer in our two churches. But we need to plan our worship so that it is (as far as we can manage) worthy of the God to whom it is offered and helpful to those who worship, and accessible to those who might join us.
One of the ideas that I got from Andy is based on the TV programme (sadly no longer being broadcast) Ready, Steady, Cook. The premise of the show was that members of the public had to bring a carrier bag of ingredients, bought on a limited budget, to their chef who had to cook up an enticing meal using what was in the bag, with a few stock items from the store cupboard. When it comes to cooking up enticing worship, what ingredients to we have to offer? We have two church buildings which are loved by their communities and a history of serving our two parishes. We have a church hall in Stretton. We have one vicar and are looking forward to the arrival of Ruth, our Curate. We have a couple of Readers and a large group of lay people who assist with our worship – from wardens and sidespeople, those who do the flowers, serve refreshments, lead prayers, sing, play musical instruments, ring bells, set up communion etc. We also have a number of congregations who meet for the services they value. What can we do with those ingredients? Quite a lot, I would suggest!
And what do we have in the store cupboard? The Church of England has the Book of Common Prayer, much loved and valued by many, and the range of provision under the heading Common Worship. We have centuries of liturgy and hymnody to draw on and the Anglican tradition of worship that has a recognisable structure but allows flexibility and seasonal variation.
We know that some value tradition and others prize contemporary expressions of worship. Some are more at home with formal worship, others with less structured services. Some like to have their communion at 8:00 AM, some like to worship mid-morning and some on Sunday evenings. Others come to midweek services, which include regular communions (weekly at St Matthew’s, monthly at St Cross) and Praise & Play. One of the things we must face is that those who come to church tend to like what they get: if you ask someone who attends the 8:00 AM service what time they think church should be, they are likely to answer ‘8:00 AM’. Equally, those who regularly attend other services. So, how do we find out what service dates and times, and what forms of worship, might suit those who don’t yet attend?
What media do we use or could we explore? The black ‘main volume’ Common Worship books are not necessarily user-friendly: they are bulky and contain material that we rarely use. The Book of Common Prayer offers services that some people love but in a language that resonates with some but not all. We use printed leaflets for many of our services, so that people have in their hands just the material they need – the structure of the service and the texts they are invited to share – but many churches now use projection for service words, allowing maximum flexibility (providing you get the technology to work reliably!). How would people feel about looking up at a screen rather than down at a book? (Singing and congregational speaking are probably improved by having people look up.)
When Andy spoke to our Deanery Clergy Chapter, I noted that he asked a couple of fundamental questions to think about when considering our worship:
- Have we forgotten God?
- Have we forgotten others?
If we have forgotten God or other people, then, whatever we are doing, it is not mission or worship! We have simply become a social club for like-minded people. Our worship, whether traditional or contemporary, high-church, low-church or middle of the road, needs to lead us towards the mystery of God. We also need to be hospitable to others: what are we willing to give up in order to make our worship accessible to those who don’t currently attend services?
I’m sure that we are never going to get it all to work perfectly. We won’t be able to please all of the people, all of the time. But each of us needs to ask what is the best worship we can offer and how can we make it accessible to those who are not yet regular worshippers?
As always, I value your thoughts!